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May 31, 2005
Mars Rover Gets Miraculous Cleaning

Speculations are rampant, but it seems that no one can say for sure what mysterious force or event has cleaned the solar panels of the Mars rover Opportunity.

The rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004.  When their missions began, their solar cells were providing 900 watt-hours of electricity per day.  But over the months that followed Spirit’s output dropped to 400 watt-hours daily, while Opportunity dropped to about 500 watt-hours. One reason for the drop was the accumulation of dust on the panels.

But then, in one of the great surprises of the rover missions, Opportunity’s power began to increase, and kept on increasing until the power peaked at just over 900 watt-hours.

As reported by, the Mars rover Opportunity “stumbled into something akin to a carwash,” which somehow “cleaned” its solar panels. Jim Erickson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory admitted that the cause of this surprise “cleaning” could not be explained. “These exciting and unexplained cleaning events have kept Opportunity in really great shape,” Erickson said.

The remarkable cleaning occurred in spurts during the Martian night. The team managing the rover reports that on at least four occasions over a six-month period, the rover's power output suddenly increased by up to 5% in a single night.  Some suggested that the Martian winds might have swept the dust off the panels. Others wondered if frost could have caused the dust to clump, exposing more of the panels. And some even suggested that the tilting of the rover while climbing hills might have caused a portion of the dust to drop off.

Such guesses are unnecessary, say advocates of the Electric Universe. Winds alone do not clean dust from smooth surfaces, even on Earth, where the atmospheric density is one hundred times that of Mars. Tilting a dusty surface does not clean it either!

Opportunity landed in Meridiani Planum. Dust storms frequently engulf the region and five-mile-high “dust devils” range through it. The discovery that dust devils on Earth have strong electric fields obliges the thought that the ten-times-bigger dust devils on Mars likely have the power to “burn” the dust in their tracks. After years of being scorched and drifting about, it’s no surprise that the dust of Meridiani Planum is black.

That dust also is likely charged with static electricity. Just as static electricity can stick dust to an object, it can remove dust. “Electrostatic cleaning” is a common and effective industrial application. All that’s needed is to change the voltage. In the electric field above Meridiani Planum, voltage will vary with altitude. Electrostatic removal of material is evident on the rims of craters. And the most marked cleaning episodes occurred when the rover was climbing the rim of Endurance crater.

The rover team has missed the clues. The conventional blindness to electricity in nature has scientists groping for explanations with their backs turned to the facts.

David Talbott, Wallace Thornhill
Amy Acheson
  CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Mel Acheson, Michael Armstrong, Dwardu Cardona,
Ev Cochrane, C.J. Ransom, Don Scott, Rens van der Sluijs, Ian Tresman
  WEBMASTER: Michael Armstrong

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